Norman Lebrecht on shifting sound worlds
First policy statement from new Semper Oper boss here. Don’t expect to see music director Christian Thielemann on the Qantas shuttle any time soon.
From my viewpoint, if they shared Thielemann that’s good news.
If they shared the productions, that’s bad news. I am so sad to see Regietheater spread to the US. Before Peter Gelb the MET seemed like a safe haven from it.
Just accept it as a revenge for Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Disney movies.
Thielemann is one of the biggest frauds I’ve ever seen on the podium. It is frightening and fascinating to see critics and audiences respond so eagerly to all the subtext he carries, of German musical supremacy and phony philosopher poses.
So do you object to his perceived lack of quality as a conductor or what you’ve heard said about his views on other subjects?
oh Theodore, no I’m a complete ignoramus with no musical training and couldn’t possibly judge conductors with your wisdom and experience (is this what you’d like to hear?)
Actually I have to confess his Schoenberg Pelleas und Melisande disc from years ago is quite alright, and “fraud” was perhaps a bit strong, but his Bruckner and Brahms and Schumann has all struck me as hopelessly postured and posed, and lacking in life and vitality. He seems to be swinging a lead baton in quasi serious gestures, but not actually interacting with the musicians. And that, my dear Theodore, isn’t conducting.
Squirrel – No need to be so jumpy. I never implied you knew nothing about music but if you write Thielemann off as a fraud you shouldn’t be surprised if people tread carefully around your opinions.
You may be right from your POV, but many many musicians who have actually played under his “lead baton”, disagree with you.
And how exactly does he carry “subtext of German musical supremacy”? How can we see that? And what are “phony philosopher poses”? I have no clue, honestly.
I have heard Thielemann several times and was very impressed,
lots of professional musicians who played with him speak very highly of his conducting ,but of course you are right :
he is a German with a ” subtext ” , hence he deserves a good all-round ,no holes barred bashing .
I personally don’t find Thielemann the most interesting and exciting conductor out there today either, but he is certainly not a fraud. He knows his craft thoroughly, has a very clear and unfussy conducting style, knows exactly when to let an orchestra play, when to give them space to develop the round, rich sound he is generally aiming for, when and where to give impulses to keep the playing flowing and structured. Other conductors practice this kind of wholesome music making in their own individual ways, too, like Barenboim, Mehta, or the late Colin Davis; there is no “subtext of German musical supremacy” there. That’s just clichés and stereotypes in your head. Clichés and stereotypes usually tell us very little about the people they are supposedly about, but a lot about the people who hold them.
Nor have I seen him pose or heard him babble philosophically. He is usually pretty straightforward and direct in the way he talks, just like he is in the way he conducts. He doesn’t appear to really care what people think about him and just does his own thing. But again, it is kind of interesting to see what kind of stereotypes and prejudices he triggers in the heads of people like you.
Excellent post, MS.
Very well said.
When I’ve just listened to Thielemann (Met’s Die Frau in 2001, recordings of Tristan and Alpine Symphony) I’ve been mightily impressed. I filter out all the German supremacy stuff.
[redacted: defamation]. Initially I was put off by his aura/his bearing that, if he was hetero, would certainly allude to Wilhelminismus and would be unbearable.
I still don’t care about him as a conductor, have never heard anything convincing (not even Bruckner). And I won’t forgive him this stupid Beethoven-conversation-DVD’s with poor Joachim Kaiser or his Wagner book: Testimonials of the fact that intellectual hubris is one main danger not for all, but for many craftsmen in musicis.
By the way: Neither “musical supremacy” nor “phony philosopher poses” are threatening anyone today. Thielemann, if he had such “ambitions”, would be a Führer ohne Reich. You should be worried about “Germany’s next top model” rather than about new continental fellowship of Houston Stewart Chamberlain.
T-man doesn’t come across as particularly “wilhelminian” to me, except maybe that he has a haircut like Claus von Stauffenberg. But I don’t generally judge musicians (or people in general) by their haircut. OK, I guess I could picture him playing with tin soldiers, but again, what does that have to do with his conducting?
I also wonder what that “musical supremacy” that people talk about here is supposed to be. How do you achieve “musical supremacy”? It doesn’t seem to say anything about that in Clausewitz’ book.
I think it’s not fair to judge Thielemann on “all the subtext he carries” which is largely concocted by the press. Judge him on his performances, not on some persona that’s been invented by critics.
Moreover, Thielemann is unapologetically championing German music. Should any Italian conductor be apologetic about focusing on Italian music?
Conductors like Gunter Wand and Bruno Walter championed German music and people were universally thankful for their work. Through his comments, Thielemann sometimes puts a slight spin on things that raises eye brows. He has no one to blame for that but himself. Forgive me if I avoid further discussion on this topic involving nationalistic resentments. I find that subject distasteful.
It’s very difficult if not impossible to have that discussion about Thielemann, because there is apparently very little factual “quotes” out there and a lot of hearsay and rumors. Not a nice foundation to start discussions which can easily go at a person’s core personality.
Wand came into international recognition for his exemplary interpretations of the Austro-German symphonic repertoire in his “second life” late career, but in his time as GMD in Cologne, he was actually more known as a champion of contemporary, and not just German contemporary music. He premiered a lot of works by composers such as Fortner or Zimmermann and gave the first German performances of a number of works by Messiaen, Ligeti, and others. He still occasionally conducted that kind of repertoire in his late career. I heard him conduct Fortner and Webern with the NDR orchestra myself.
That just as an aside, it doesn’t change anything about what you said.
He’s terrific in Strauss, Schumann, Brahms, Bruckner. In a couple of other German composers closely associated with him — you can guess the two I mean — he is variable and somewhat unstable, which may have led to your bad impression. Play the 2011 DVD of “Die Frau ohne Schatten” from Salzburg and you’ll be convinced. Other composers he should do well would be Zemlinsky and Sibelius.
… that was a reply to Squirrel’s “fraud” comment at the top.
Mr Dorny is a bit out to lunch and so early… he obviously has never stepped foot in the Sydney Opera House. While the stages of the Semperoper and the Met are compatible the stage of the Sydney opera house is definitely not. Multiply the Sydney stage by four and you’d still have room to swing a cat in either Dresden or New York. Sydney’s grid is a headache 14 metres – the average opera house has a height of 24metres to the roof – and no width or depth. In sum, a ‘challenge extraordinaire’ for any designer.
I guess Mr Dorny is intending to have two sets built -a mini for Sydney and a maxi for the Met and Dresden. Hope the co-production budget will be adjusted accordingly!
Like Josho I simply cannot understand the concept of sharing productions when there is such a massive difference in the size of Sydney’s stage compared to the other two. Reminds me of an “Attila” from the Teatro Massimo in Palermo at the Edinburgh Festival decades ago. The arches which spanned the Palermo set had to be cut in half so that they were only half arcs in the King’s Theatre! Ridiculous! Sounds like an excuse for the Dresden Intendant to have a couple of nice trips to Sydney on expenses before the whole idea is shelved! As for Thielemann’s conducting, I heard him conduct twice in a month last year – a wonderful concert of Wagner Preludes and Brahms First, and a superb musical performance of “Der Rosenkavalier”. The production reset in the early 1950s (how is that possible without rewriting the libretto?) was pretty dire but the orchestral pacing and playing – and the singing – were glorious. I have heard his views are “controversial”, but is that so unusual in the music business?
Could it be that this co-production with Sydney will be shown at Schauspielhaus…? (Just joking, but in fact the mention is so vague that it not even makes it clear that indeed the Semperoper main stage will be the venue.)
Reminds of the Herheim co-productions with Graz (Rusalka, Manon Lescaut) where the sets had to be designed in versions for the different stage sizes from the beginning. Well, such inner-European co-productions are no longer intended by Serge Dorny anymore, consistent with remarks he made in some earlier interview (i.e. still before Dresden enticed him away from Lyon).
And it is fascinating how immediately the old Thielemann debate erupts again even when it is almost off-topic. Just check out which *opera* performances at Dresden Thielemann will conduct in the remainder of the 2013/14 season: The first four ones of the new Elektra production in January (he leaves the two performances with in-house cast in June to Stefan Klingele), then in May/June the first three ones of Simon Boccanegra, now an own production because there will be no Herheim one at Gothenburg to attach to (it still appears to be unclear who will conduct the remaining two performances instead), and that’s all. So much for this being Thielemann’s house, as a German newspaper claimed.
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